Gwendolyn Brooks is one of the most highly regarded, influential, and much-honored poets of 20th-century American poetry. She was the first African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and is best known for her intense poetic portraits of urban African Americans. Famous Gwendolyn Brooks poems will show you how she is an earthy, plainspoken, and unpretentious American legend.
If you’re searching for best known poems that perfectly capture what you’d like to say or just want to feel inspired yourself, browse through an amazing collection of Langston Hughes’s most famous poems, amazing Margaret Atwood poems, and Elizabeth Bishop poems.
Most Famous Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks
We Real Cool
The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
An Aspect of Love, Alive in the Ice and Fire
In a package of minutes there is this We.
Merry foreigners in our morning,
we laugh, we touch each other,
are responsible props and posts.
A physical light is in the room.
Because the world is at the window
we cannot wonder very long.
You rise. Although
genial, you are in yourself again.
your direct and respectable stride.
You are direct and self-accepting as a lion
in Afrikan velvet. You are level, lean,
There is a moment in Camaraderie
when interruption is not to be understood.
I cannot bear an interruption.
This is the shining joy;
the time of not-to-end.
On the street we smile.
in different directions
down the imperturbable street.
Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.
I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches,
and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.
Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
One Wants A Teller In A Time Like This
One wants a teller in a time like this
One’s not a man, one’s not a woman grown
To bear enormous business all alone.
One cannot walk this winding street with pride
Knowing one knows for sure the way back home.
One wonders if one has a home.
One is not certain if or why or how.
One wants a Teller now:
Put on your rubbers and you won’t catch a cold
Here’s hell, there’s heaven. Go to Sunday School
Be patient, time brings all good things–(and cool
Stong balm to calm the burning at the brain?)
Love’s true, and triumphs; and God’s actual.
To Be In Love
To be in love
Is to touch with a lighter hand.
In yourself you stretch, you are well.
You look at things
Through his eyes.
A cardinal is red.
A sky is blue.
Suddenly you know he knows too.
He is not there but
You know you are tasting together
The winter, or a light spring weather.
His hand to take your hand is overmuch.
Too much to bear.
You cannot look in his eyes
Because your pulse must not say
What must not be said.
Shuts a door-
Is not there_
Your arms are water.
And you are free
With a ghastly freedom.
You are the beautiful half
Of a golden hurt.
You remember and covet his mouth
To touch, to whisper on.
Oh when to declare
Is certain Death!
Oh when to apprize
Is to mesmerize,
To see fall down, the Column of Gold,
Into the commonest ash.
The Ballad of Rudolph Reed
Rudolph Reed was oaken.
His wife was oaken too.
And his two good girls and his good little man
Oakened as they grew.
“I am not hungry for berries.
I am not hungry for bread.
But hungry hungry for a house
Where at night a man in bed
”May never hear the plaster
Stir as if in pain.
May never hear the roaches
Falling like fat rain.
“Where never wife and children need
Go blinking through the gloom.
Where every room of many rooms
Will be full of room.
”Oh my home may have its east or west
Or north or south behind it.
All I know is I shall know it,
And fight for it when I find it.“
It was in a street of bitter white
That he made his application.
For Rudolph Reed was oakener
Than others in the nation.
The agent’s steep and steady stare
Corroded to a grin.
Why, you black old, tough old hell of a man,
Move your family in!
Nary a grin grinned Rudolph Reed,
Nary a curse cursed he,
But moved in his House. With his dark little wife,
And his dark little children three.
A neighbor would look, with a yawning eye
That squeezed into a slit.
But the Rudolph Reeds and the children three
Were too joyous to notice it.
For were they not firm in a home of their own
With windows everywhere
And a beautiful banistered stair
And a front yard for flowers and a back yard for grass?
The first night, a rock, big as two fists.
The second, a rock big as three.
But nary a curse cursed Rudolph Reed.
(Though oaken as man could be.)
The third night, a silvery ring of glass.
Patience ached to endure.
But he looked, and lo! small Mabel’s blood
Was staining her gaze so pure.
Then up did rise our Rudolph Reed
And pressed the hand of his wife,
And went to the door with a thirty-four
And a beastly butcher knife.
He ran like a mad thing into the night.
And the words in his mouth were stinking.
By the time he had hurt his first white man
He was no longer thinking.
By the time he had hurt his fourth white man
Rudolph Reed was dead.
His neighbors gathered and kicked his corpse.
”Nigger—“ his neighbors said.
Small Mabel whimpered all night long,
For calling herself the cause.
Her oak-eyed mother did no thing
But change the bloody gauze.
The Lovers of the Poor
arrive. The Ladies from the Ladies’ Betterment
Arrive in the afternoon, the late light slanting
In diluted gold bars across the boulevard brag
Of proud, seamed faces with mercy and murder hinting
Here, there, interrupting, all deep and debonair,
The pink paint on the innocence of fear;
Walk in a gingerly manner up the hall.
Cutting with knives served by their softest care,
Served by their love, so barbarously fair.
Whose mothers taught: You’d better not be cruel!
You had better not throw stones upon the wrens!
Herein they kiss and coddle and assault
Anew and dearly in the innocence
With which they baffle nature. Who are full,
Sleek, tender-clad, fit, fiftyish, a-glow, all
Sweetly abortive, hinting at fat fruit,
Judge it high time that fiftyish fingers felt
Beneath the lovelier planes of enterprise.
To resurrect. To moisten with milky chill.
To be a random hitching post or plush.
To be, for wet eyes, random and handy hem.
Their guild is giving money to the poor.
The worthy poor. The very very worthy
And beautiful poor. Perhaps just not too swarthy?
Perhaps just not too dirty nor too dim
Nor—passionate. In truth, what they could wish
Is—something less than derelict or dull.
Not staunch enough to stab, though, gaze for gaze!
God shield them sharply from the beggar-bold!
The noxious needy ones whose battle’s bald
Nonetheless for being voiceless, hits one down.
But it’s all so bad! and entirely too much for them.
The stench; the urine, cabbage, and dead beans,
Dead porridges of assorted dusty grains,
The old smoke, heavy diapers, and, they’re told,
Something called chitterlings. The darkness. Drawn
Darkness, or dirty light. The soil that stirs.
The soil that looks the soil of centuries.
And for that matter the general oldness. Old
Wood. Old marble. Old tile. Old old old.
Not homekind Oldness! Not Lake Forest, Glencoe.
Nothing is sturdy, nothing is majestic,
There is no quiet drama, no rubbed glaze, no
Unkillable infirmity of such
A tasteful turn as lately they have left,
Glencoe, Lake Forest, and to which their cars
Must presently restore them. When they’re done
With dullards and distortions of this fistic
Patience of the poor and put-upon.
They’ve never seen such a make-do-ness as
Newspaper rugs before! In this, this “flat,”
Their hostess is gathering up the oozed, the rich
Rugs of the morning (tattered! the bespattered . . . ),
Readies to spread clean rugs for afternoon.
Here is a scene for you. The Ladies look,
In horror, behind a substantial citizeness
Whose trains clank out across her swollen heart.
Who, arms akimbo, almost fills a door.
All tumbling children, quilts dragged to the floor
And tortured thereover, potato peelings, soft-
Eyed kitten, hunched-up, haggard, to-be-hurt.
Their League is allotting largesse to the Lost.
But to put their clean, their pretty money, to put
Their money collected from delicate rose-fingers
Tipped with their hundred flawless rose-nails seems . . .
They own Spode, Lowestoft, candelabra,
Mantels, and hostess gowns, and sunburst clocks,
Turtle soup, Chippendale, red satin “hangings,”
Aubussons and Hattie Carnegie. They Winter
In Palm Beach; cross the Water in June; attend,
When suitable, the nice Art Institute;
Buy the right books in the best bindings; saunter
On Michigan, Easter mornings, in sun or wind.
Oh Squalor! This sick four-story hulk, this fibre
With fissures everywhere! Why, what are bringings
Of loathe-love largesse? What shall peril hungers
So old old, what shall flatter the desolate?
Tin can, blocked fire escape and chitterling
And swaggering seeking youth and the puzzled wreckage
Of the middle passage, and urine and stale shames
And, again, the porridges of the underslung
And children children children. Heavens! That
Was a rat, surely, off there, in the shadows? Long
And long-tailed? Gray? The Ladies from the Ladies’
Betterment League agree it will be better
To achieve the outer air that rights and steadies,
To hie to a house that does not holler, to ring
Bells elsetime, better presently to cater
To no more Possibilities, to get
Away. Perhaps the money can be posted.
Perhaps they two may choose another Slum!
Some serious sooty half-unhappy home!—
Where loathe-lover likelier may be invested.
Keeping their scented bodies in the center
Of the hall as they walk down the hysterical hall,
They allow their lovely skirts to graze no wall,
Are off at what they manage of a canter,
And, resuming all the clues of what they were,
Try to avoid inhaling the laden air.
The Crazy Woman
I shall not sing a May song.
A May song should be gay.
I’ll wait until November
And sing a song of gray.
I’ll wait until November
That is the time for me.
I’ll go out in the frosty dark
And sing most terribly.
And all the little people
Will stare at me and say,
“That is the Crazy Woman
Who would not sing in May.”
Sadie And Maud
Maud went to college.
Sadie stayed home.
Sadie scraped life
With a fine toothed comb.
She didn’t leave a tangle in
Her comb found every strand.
Sadie was one of the livingest chicks
In all the land.
Sadie bore two babies
Under her maiden name.
Maud and Ma and Papa
Nearly died of shame.
When Sadie said her last so-long
Her girls struck out from home.
(Sadie left as heritage
Her fine-toothed comb.)
Maud, who went to college,
Is a thin brown mouse.
She is living all alone
In this old house.
The Bean Eaters
They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.
And remembering …
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.
Beverly Hills, Chicago
(“and the people live till they have white hair”)
E. M. Price
The dry brown coughing beneath their feet,
(Only for a while, for the handyman is on his way)
These people walk their golden gardens.
We say ourselves fortunate to be driving by today.
That we may look at them, in their gardens where
The summer ripeness rots. But not raggedly.
Even the leaves fall down in lovelier patterns here.
And the refuse, the refuse is a neat brilliancy.
When they flow sweetly into their houses
With softness and slowness touched by that everlasting gold,
We know what they go to. To tea. But that does not mean
They will throw some little black dots into some water and add sugar and the juice of the cheapest lemons that are sold,
While downstairs that woman’s vague phonograph bleats, “Knock me a kiss.”
And the living all to be made again in the sweatingest physical manner
Tomorrow. . . . Not that anybody is saying that these people have no trouble.
Merely that it is trouble with a gold-flecked beautiful banner.
Nobody is saying that these people do not ultimately cease to be. And
Sometimes their passings are even more painful than ours.
It is just that so often they live till their hair is white.
They make excellent corpses, among the expensive flowers. . . .
Nobody is furious. Nobody hates these people.
At least, nobody driving by in this car.
It is only natural, however, that it should occur to us
How much more fortunate they are than we are.
It is only natural that we should look and look
At their wood and brick and stone
And think, while a breath of pine blows,
How different these are from our own.
We do not want them to have less.
But it is only natural that we should think we have not enough.
We drive on, we drive on.
When we speak to each other our voices are a little gruff.
A Sunset Of The City
Already I am no longer looked at with lechery or love.
My daughters and sons have put me away with marbles and dolls,
Are gone from the house.
My husband and lovers are pleasant or somewhat polite
And night is night.
It is a real chill out,
The genuine thing.
I am not deceived, I do not think it is still summer
Because sun stays and birds continue to sing.
It is summer-gone that I see, it is summer-gone.
The sweet flowers indrying and dying down,
The grasses forgetting their blaze and consenting to brown.
It is a real chill out. The fall crisp comes
I am aware there is winter to heed.
There is no warm house
That is fitted with my need.
I am cold in this cold house this house
Whose washed echoes are tremulous down lost halls.
I am a woman, and dusty, standing among new affairs.
I am a woman who hurries through her prayers.
Tin intimations of a quiet core to be my
Desert and my dear relief
Come: there shall be such islanding from grief,
And small communion with the master shore.
Twang they. And I incline this ear to tin,
Consult a dual dilemma. Whether to dry
In humming pallor or to leap and die.
Somebody muffed it?? Somebody wanted to joke.
My Dreams, My Works, Must Wait Till After Hell
I hold my honey and I store my bread
In little jars and cabinets of my will.
I label clearly, and each latch and lid
I bid, Be firm till I return from hell.
I am very hungry. I am incomplete.
And none can give me any word but Wait,
The puny light. I keep my eyes pointed in;
Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt
Drag out to their last dregs and I resume
On such legs as are left me, in such heart
As I can manage, remember to go home,
My taste will not have turned insensitive
To honey and bread old purity could love.
The Blackstone Rangers
AS SEEN BY DISCIPLINES
There they are.
Thirty at the corner.
Black, raw, ready.
Sores in the city
that do not want to heal.
Jeff. Gene. Geronimo. And Bop.
They cancel, cure and curry.
Hardly the dupes of the downtown thing
the cold bonbon,
the rhinestone thing. And hardly
in a hurry.
Hardly Belafonte, King,
Black Jesus, Stokely, Malcolm X or Rap.
Their country is a Nation on no map.
Jeff, Gene, Geronimo and Bop
in the passionate noon,
in bewitching night
are the detailed men, the copious men.
They curry, cure,
they cancel, cancelled images whose Concerts
are not divine, vivacious; the different tins
are intense last entries; pagan argument;
translations of the night.
The Blackstone bitter bureaus
(bureaucracy is footloose) edit, fuse
unfashionable damnations and descent;
and exulting, monstrous hand on monstrous hand,
construct, strangely, a monstrous pearl or grace.
Gang Girls are sweet exotics.
uses the nutrients of her orient,
but sometimes sighs for Cities of blue and jewel
beyond her Ranger rim of Cottage Grove.
(Bowery Boys, Disciples, Whip-Birds will
dissolve no margins, stop no savory sanctities.)
a rose in a whiskey glass.
Februaries shudder and are gone. Aprils
fret frankly, lilac hurries on.
Summer is a hard irregular ridge.
October looks away.
And that’s the Year!
Save for her bugle-love.
Save for the bleat of not-obese devotion.
Save for Somebody Terribly Dying, under
the philanthropy of robins. Save for her Ranger
an amount of rainbow in a string-drawn bag.
“Where did you get the diamond?” Do not ask:
but swallow, straight, the spirals of his flask
and assist him at your zipper; pet his lips
and help him clutch you.
Love’s another departure.
Will there be any arrivals, confirmations?
Will there be gleaning?
Mary, the Shakedancer’s child
from the rooming-flat, pants carefully, peers at
her laboring lover ….
Mary! Mary Ann!
Settle for sandwiches! settle for stocking caps!
for sudden blood, aborted carnival,
the props and niceties of non-loneliness—
the rhymes of Leaning.
The Life of Lincoln West
Ugliest little boy
that everyone ever saw.
That is what everyone said.
Even to his mother it was apparent—
when the blue-aproned nurse came into the
northeast end of the maternity ward
bearing his squeals and plump bottom
looped up in a scant receiving blanket,
bending, to pass the bundle carefully
into the waiting mother-hands—that this
was no cute little ugliness, no sly baby waywardness
that was going to inch away
as would baby fat, baby curl, and
baby spot-rash. The pendulous lip, the
branching ears, the eyes so wide and wild,
the vague unvibrant brown of the skin,
and, most disturbing, the great head.
These components of That Look bespoke
the sure fibre. The deep grain.
His father could not bear the sight of him.
His mother high-piled her pretty dyed hair and
put him among her hairpins and sweethearts,
dance slippers, torn paper roses.
He was not less than these,
he was not more.
As the little Lincoln grew,
uglily upward and out, he began
to understand that something was
wrong. His little ways of trying
to please his father, the bringing
of matches, the jumping aside at
warning sound of oh-so-large and
rushing stride, the smile that gave
and gave and gave—Unsuccessful!
Even Christmases and Easters were spoiled.
He would be sitting at the
family feasting table, really
delighting in the displays of mashed potatoes
and the rich golden
fat-crust of the ham or the festive
fowl, when he would look up and find
somebody feeling indignant about him.
What a pity what a pity. No love
for one so loving. The little Lincoln
loved Everybody. Ants. The changing
caterpillar. His much-missing mother.
His kindergarten teacher.
His kindergarten teacher—whose
concern for him was composed of one
part sympathy and two parts repulsion.
The others ran up with their little drawings.
He ran up with his.
tried to be as pleasant with him as
with others, but it was difficult.
For she was all pretty! all daintiness,
all tiny vanilla, with blue eyes and fluffy
sun-hair. One afternoon she
saw him in the hall looking bleak against
the wall. It was strange because the
bell had long since rung and no other
child was in sight. Pity flooded her.
She buttoned her gloves and suggested
cheerfully that she walk him home. She
started out bravely, holding him by the
hand. But she had not walked far before
she regretted it. The little monkey.
Must everyone look? And clutching her
hand like that. . . . Literally pinching
it. . . .
At seven, the little Lincoln loved
the brother and sister who
moved next door. Handsome. Well-
dressed. Charitable, often, to him. They
enjoyed him because he was
resourceful, made up
games, told stories. But when
their More Acceptable friends came they turned
their handsome backs on him. He
hated himself for his feeling
of well-being when with them despite—
He spent much time looking at himself
in mirrors. What could be done?
But there was no
shrinking his head. There was no
binding his ears.
“Don’t touch me!” cried the little
fairy-like being in the playground.
Her name was Nerissa. The many
children were playing tag, but when
he caught her, she recoiled, jerked free
and ran. It was like all the
rainbow that ever was, going off
forever, all, all the sparklings in
the sunset west.
One day, while he was yet seven,
a thing happened. In the down-town movies
with his mother a white
man in the seat beside him whispered
loudly to a companion, and pointed at
the little Linc.
“THERE! That’s the kind I’ve been wanting
to show you! One of the best
examples of the specie. Not like
those diluted Negroes you see so much of on
the streets these days, but the
Black, ugly, and odd. You
can see the savagery. The blunt
blankness. That is the real
His mother—her hair had never looked so
red around the dark brown
velvet of her face—jumped up,
shrieked “Go to—” She did not finish.
She yanked to his feet the little
Lincoln, who was sitting there
staring in fascination at his assessor. At the author of his
All the way home he was happy. Of course,
he had not liked the word
But, after all, should he not
be used to that by now? What had
struck him, among words and meanings
he could little understand, was the phrase
“the real thing.”
He didn’t know quite why,
but he liked that.
He liked that very much.
When he was hurt, too much
thought about that. He told himself
“After all, I’m
the real thing.”
It comforted him.
The Sermon on the Warpland
“The fact that we are black
is our ultimate reality.”
And several strengths from drowsiness campaigned
but spoke in Single Sermon on the warpland.
And went about the warpland saying No.
“My people, black and black, revile the River.
Say that the River turns, and turn the River.
Say that our Something in doublepod contains
seeds for the coming hell and health together.
Prepare to meet
(sisters, brothers) the brash and terrible weather;
the bruising; the collapse of bestials, idols.
But then oh then!—the stuffing of the hulls!
the seasoning of the perilously sweet!
the health! The heralding of the clear obscure!
Build now your Church, my brothers, sisters. Build
never with brick or Corten nor with granite.
Build with lithe love. With love like lion-eyes.
with love like morningrise.
with love like black, our black—
A riot is the language of the unheard.
—martin luther king
John Cabot, out of Wilma, once a Wycliffe,
all whitebluerose below his golden hair,
wrapped richly in right linen and right wool,
almost forgot his Jaguar and Lake Bluff;
almost forgot Grandtully (which is The
Best Thing That Ever Happened To Scotch); almost
forgot the sculpture at the Richard Gray
and Distelheim; the kidney pie at Maxim’s,
the Grenadine de Boeuf at Maison Henri.
Because the Negroes were coming down the street.
Because the Poor were sweaty and unpretty
(not like Two Dainty Negroes in Winnetka)
and they were coming toward him in rough ranks.
In seas. In windsweep. They were black and loud.
And not detainable. And not discreet.
Gross. Gross. “Que tu es grossier!” John Cabot
itched instantly beneath the nourished white
that told his story of glory to the World.
“Don’t let It touch me! the blackness! Lord!” he whispered
to any handy angel in the sky.
But, in a thrilling announcement, on It drove
and breathed on him: and touched him. In that breath
the fume of pig foot, chitterling and cheap chili,
malign, mocked John. And, in terrific touch, old
averted doubt jerked forward decently,
cried, “Cabot! John! You are a desperate man,
and the desperate die expensively today.”
John Cabot went down in the smoke and fire
and broken glass and blood, and he cried “Lord!
Forgive these nigguhs that know not what they do.”
the rites for Cousin Vit
Carried her unprotesting out the door.
Kicked back the casket-stand. But it can’t hold her,
That stuff and satin aiming to enfold her,
The lid’s contrition nor the bolts before.
Oh oh. Too much. Too much. Even now, surmise,
She rises in the sunshine. There she goes,
Back to the bars she knew and the repose
In love-rooms and the things in people’s eyes.
Too vital and too squeaking. Must emerge.
Even now she does the snake-hips with a hiss,
Slops the bad wine across her shantung, talks
Of pregnancy, guitars and bridgework, walks
In parks or alleys, comes haply on the verge
Of happiness, haply hysterics. Is.
of De Witt Williams on his way to Lincoln Cemetery
He was born in Alabama.
He was bred in Illinois.
He was nothing but a
Plain black boy.
Swing low swing low sweet sweet chariot.
Nothing but a plain black boy.
Drive him past the Pool Hall.
Drive him past the Show.
Blind within his casket,
But maybe he will know.
Down through Forty-seventh Street:
Underneath the L,
And Northwest Corner, Prairie,
That he loved so well.
Don’t forget the Dance Halls—
Warwick and Savoy,
Where he picked his women, where
He drank his liquid joy.
Born in Alabama.
Bred in Illinois.
He was nothing but a
Plain black boy.
Swing low swing low sweet sweet chariot.
Nothing but a plain black boy.
The Good Man
The good man.
He is still enhancer, renouncer.
In the time of detachment,
in the time of the vivid heather and affectionate evil,
in the time of oral
grave grave legalities of hate – all real
walks our prime registered reproach and seal.
Our successful moral.
The good man.
Watches our bogus roses, our rank wreath, our
love’s unreliable cement, the gray
jubilees of our demondom.
Counsel! Good man.
Require of us our terribly excluded blue.
Constrain, repair a ripped, revolted land.
Put hand in hand land over.
the abler droughts and manias of the day
and a felicity entreat.
your pledges, reinforce your aides, renew